Our top ten mappy stories in 2016

As we get closer to the end of 2016, we decided to take a look back at the blogs you liked the most over the year. We were pleased to see that the popular topics covered off our 225th anniversary and the 80th anniversary of the trig pillar as well as many other topics in between. Read your top ten:

  1. OS Maps go off the planet

mars-map-extractThe planet Mars became the latest subject in our long line of iconic OS paper maps. The one-off OS Mars map, created using NASA open data and made to a 1:4,000,000 scale, was made to see if our style of mapping has potential for future Mars missions. You can also order a copy for your wall in the OS shop.

  1. Britain’s most popular grid squares

You may have heard us saying that there are over 500,000 routes in our OS Maps service…well, we  analysed all of that data to look at which areas you most like to #GetOutside and explore. We compiled a list of the 20 most popular grid squares in Britain, using 10 years of public routing data created in OS Maps and its predecessors.

All of the public OS Maps routes recorded in the Lake District National Park

  1. The Great British Colouring Map

CBOne year on from our release of a series of downloadable colouring-in maps created using OS OpenData, we launched a full book of OS maps to colour. Working with publisher Laurence King, the book takes you on an immersive colouring-in journey around Great Britain, from the coasts and forests to the towns and countryside. There are 55 maps to colour in – or to admire! Available in many bookstores and outdoors retailers, you can also buy a copy on the OS Shop.

  1. When Ben Nevis grew

It’s not every day that our surveyors have the chance to climb Ben Nevis with all of their kit and resurvey the mountain. But they did this year and found that Great Britain’s tallest mountain is taller than we thought. Our paper and digital maps now show the height as 1,345m and not 1,344m.

The latest Ben Nevis map

  1. The trig pillar turned 80

On 18 April 1936 a group of surveyors gathered around a white concrete pillar in a field in Cold Ashby and began the retriangulation of Great Britain. That trig pillar is still standing 80 years on, along with thousands more around the country. We celebrated by sharing the story of the humble trig pillar, and loved seeing all of the photos you shared with us (and still do!) using #TrigPillar80 for the chance to win one of our limited edition T-shirts.


  1. National Map Reading Week

Our first National Map Reading Week went off with a bang on 17 October. Created in response to our survey in which 40% of people struggled to pinpoint London and only 14% could accurately plot Edinburgh’s location, we wanted to boost the nation’s map reading skills. There were map reading workshops and a host of fantastic resources, from videos to handy guides, readily available on our site. Not sure how you brush up? Try our quiz to see if you’re a map legend.

  1. Using open source GIS in the public sector

With over 4,000 Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA) members, we see a huge range of uses for OS data in the public sector, making efficiency and cost savings. We’re also aware of a wide range of geographic information systems (GIS) being used by members to manage their geodata needs. One of our PSMA members, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, migrated to using open source GIS in 2015 and has found significant efficiencies in staff time, cost savings and an increase in the number of departments using OS data.

  1. When GPS fails…could you navigate with a paper map and compass?

Another article which contributed to our National Map Reading Week plans…Most of us are reliant on a GPS in our day to day life – whether it’s following the reassuring voice directing us around a traffic jam or grabbing our phone for a quick check that we’re walking in the right direction in a new city. Many now rely solely on GPS for navigating in the hills too. But what happens when GPS fails? It’s something that walkers near Benbecula were likely to experience this summer with the military jamming GPS signals in the area.

  1. OS turned 225 years old

On 21 June 1791, the Board of Ordnance purchased a Ramsden theodolite, now seen as the foundation of OS, to survey Britain and protect from a French invasion. Ten years later we published the first OS map of Kent and have continued to map the country and provide data for Great Britain (and beyond – did you see the Mars map?) ever since. We celebrated by creating two new maps in historic styles. Both are now available to buy in the OS shop.

Chris' London map

  1. OSTN15 – the new geoid for Britain

Seeing as an improvement in our model that transforms height from GPS to one above mean sea level has caused a hill to “grow” into a mountain – we thought it would be a good idea to explain how positions and heights surveyed by our surveyors with GPS make it onto our maps.

Time for a few more?

There you have it, the ten most popular topics on our blog this year. There were a few more that only just missed the cut that we can’t resist sharing again too, as they’re our personal favourites. Take a look:

Is Britain on the move? When Australia announced a 1.8m shift in its mapping coordinates, to compensate for the country’s 7.5cm shift north each year, we needed to know if Britain would suffer the same fate. So we asked our geodetic expert Mark Greaves why, and could the same thing happen here?

Mapping Britain in 3D – We were on BBC Breakfast this year, talking about mapping Britain from the skies and interpreting that data into 3D maps to create a digital twin of our real-life landscape. As potential uses for accurate 3D data grow, so does demand for intelligence behind it. Jon Horgan, our Product Development Consultant, has been working on this. Making the data intelligent so that it can be analysed and interrogated, creating a framework that users can hang their own data onto.

OS Open Map Local released – Our most detailed street-level open data product, OS Open Map – Local, went live in full V1 format. Since its launch in beta format in March 2015, it had proved immensely popular with 20,000 tile downloads in the first week alone.

Find more 2016 blog stories by clicking the ‘Archives’ link on the right hand side.


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